Liminoid and Walls Against the Multitude (on PSi #23, Part 2 of 3)

Considering the abundance of sessions offered in the conference I became aware of the limitations of reporting on the whole conference which was organized by Amelie Deuflhard, Gabriele Klein, Martin Jörg Schäfer and Wolfgang Sting and managed by Marc Wagenbach. So I decided to write about a few thoughts and ideas that came up in conversations and dialogues as well as moments of relaxation shared with other participants. Many of the terms and themes have already been discussed at other PSi-conferences and in Performance Research. This reappearance of themes can be seen as a golden thread which not only helps to get out of a labyrinth built by artists but also helps to catch the clue to a complexly woven pattern.

Liminal and Liminoid

Amongst the many metaphors and concrete forms of flow and overflow ‘liminal’ seems to be a revue of an old one. After Richard Schechner (one of the founders of PSi) one did not hear this reference for quite a while. It was introduced by Arnold van Gennep and redefined by Victor Turner. Thomas Isaacs brought it up again to understand the self-torturous actions of Marina Abramovic in “Lips of Thomas” . Although it was done in 1974 it seems that it has not been fully understood. Why can it be useful or even necessary to perform painful acts? If we follow Turner, we have to ask again, whether there is any reason to transfer rituals and initiations from agricultural to complex contemporary societies? Does it make sense to use this term and to understand pain in terms of a contemporary ritual? Kieran Sellars also asked such questions with regard to the performances of Martin O’Brian, which for him are part of a personal method of struggling against his disease and help him to ease pain.[1] Perhaps we have to revise the idea of transgression today. While in the 1960s and 70s it meant breaking down the limits between art and life as well as between the private and the public, today the setup of limits is being discussed again. It seems that ‘liminal’ defines the use of thresholds – seen as a beam of plank at the entrance of a house – against excess.

New Limits? (degression)

The etymology of liminal is connected to the motto ‘overflow’, considering, that thresholds, the literary meaning of which can be defined as a board holding the abundance of a rich crop like cereal. Here liminal means banning or protecting the overflow and being able to share a crop over a period of time. This seems to be the direction in which the impetus of performance art has been changing over the decades at least in the Americas, Europe and Japan. Beginning as a revolutionary act in art, politics and life, which intended to tear away any limitation set by traditions, rules or conventions. This tendency was partly reversed by accademisation, when new museums were built in the 1970s and universities expanded faculties in the 1980s. Parallel to that the private TV-channels expanded by streaming 24 hours adds and news accompanied by permanent stock-market-tickers and there was the fall of the iron curtain. Things speeded up and the internet provided digital communication to almost everybody. This led to the desire to set up new limits or strengthen the old ones by moral and religious taboos. Actually even in countries with free access to internet like in Germany limitations of free speech as sanctions on hate-speech are being discussed.

This emphasizes the taming of uncontrolled powers of violence, of overwhelming feelings as well as pain. Could it also mean to a society that it looks for ways to control aggressive youngsters, powerful intellectuals and physical fighters instead of unleashing them? There is an obligation to protect the weak and if we look at the changing of the liminal in Performance Art it finally could mean the compliance of the arts by reconciling struggle, taming violence, preventing fighting and overcoming pain in a classical way. Already now sports, arts and cultural policy provide multiple space and time in media, arenas, theatres, cinemas etc. to compensate for phenomena of the liminoid. The numbers of artists who are pushing the limits are few. They are still acting in countries, where the limits for making money are wide and for artistic expression are tight. A good example is Pjotr Pawlenski in Russia. Actually numerous biennals, documenta and art fairs have been established on the base of what was achieved by the widening of limits and providing open spaces. Now we see a tendency that these multiple spaces are excessively filled with artefacts and material. It seems that the challenge of contemporary artists consists in stuffing up places for exhibitions and gathering matter and things in panic-like efforts

The Permanence of a Construction-Site as Happening

The new project of Rimini Protokoll “Staat 1-4” approaches such implications of overflow which are provided by big construction sites. As Immanuel Schipper presented, there is a trend which can be publicly observed: The generation of problems that are raising costs and cause constant delays, which enable the prolongation of construction sites deploying more and more opportunities to earn money for companies and lawyers. “Gesellschaftsmodell Großbaustelle (Staat 2)” is inspired by the logic and the logistics of a mega-construction site forming a role model for a society. The virtual set reminds me of the compartmented structure of a Happening like for example „18 Happenings in 6 Parts”. Instead of using the theatrical frame the project provides guided tours for 5 groups of visitors taking place at the same time in the same space at different parts of the site.
At the same time the “real” reality and real estate like the construction sites at the Berlin Airport (BER), will probably never be finished. Examining this from an artistic point of view this kind of reality appears like a permanent Happening, which is not dropped from the program for years like a successful musical. Is the latest and unexpected version of blurring the boundaries between art and life.

Independent Film in Hamburg

A surprisingly detailed paper was presented by Megan Hoetger from L.A. who researched “underground” film making in Hamburg in 1969 + 1973. She came close to the iconoclastic qualities of that independent experiment, which existed for a very short period of time. The film-maker-cooperative at Hamburg’s Brüderstraße was radically staying away from film- and TV-productions. Its members were also resisting paths which were chosen in local film-festivals in Germany and abroad.

[1] “Martin’s work considers existence with a severe chronic illness within our contemporary situation. Martin suffers from cystic fibrosis and his practice uses physical endurance, hardship and pain based practices to challenge common representations of illness and examine what it means to be born with a life threatening disease. His work is an act of resistance to illness, an attempt at claiming agency and a celebration of his body. Martin loves his body and his work is a form of sufferance in order to survive.”